Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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I wanted to love this movie. I did, truly. I guess you already know how the rest of this review goes but do try to stay with me here, I’m not just a crying fanboy. While I drafted this with minimal spoilers, there still are spoilers ahead so consider this your spoiler warning.

So Ghost in the Shell is a manga from the late eighties, a movie from the mid-nineties, and an anime from the early 2000’s. This franchise has been through a lot, and I’ve been a fan of it for a very long time. The 1995 movie, while slow-paced, is an excellent work of art that conveys the messages that it wants to convey quite clearly. The Major, Batou, and Aramaki are some of my favourite characters from manga. The Major has this playful nature, Batou… is the butt(ou) of several jokes, and Aramaki is a sly fox that you can’t help but admire. Togusa representing the stubborn, older generation. Most of the other members had augmentations that made their job easier (Saitou’s vision, for example). Others augment themselves for fun (Borma’s liver augmentation). I guess the point that I’m trying to get across is that Ghost in the Shell represented a crossroads in our future where all of these types of people coexisted. We weren’t all cyborgs and we aren’t all humans. And the characters are all so relatable, it’s hard for me to pick ones that I don’t like. Even in the older movie, it was incredibly difficult for me to dislike the Puppetmaster, rather I disliked some of his actions (the poor man with false memories).

Maybe this one was a little close to home, and I shouldn’t have gone in because of that. Let’s talk about what I liked about the movie first.

The movie is visually appealing. I can almost see the future with holographic advertisements the size of skyscrapers already. While I see the payphones on the side of the street disappearing (sorry 1995) I can see the idea of more robots in the service industry. Hell, Japan, in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics is already constructing hotels run by robots dinosaurs. ROBOT DINOSAURS! Come on man! ROBOT FRICKIN DINOSAURS! There are some great special effects, however I believe the movie failed to capitalize on the 3D. Especially the scenes where The Major is getting painted back to normal, mesmerized me every time.

The acting is fantastic. ScarJo knows how to play her character (most of the time) and there were some great scenes where you could really see how her movements felt robotic, like it wasn’t a natural human body. In the source material The Major is a little more playful, which is what I liked about it, but eh, new adaptation, different direction. I’m not terribly bothered because what ScarJo did do, she did well.

Before I move on, I do want to take a moment to address the whitewashing controversy. Anyone that complains about it doesn’t understand the source material. The Major’s origins are notoriously mysterious (within source material, which this movie dodged for the most part). And I think that anyone that complains about the whitewashing doesn’t quite get the point. See, the major is effectively a human inside a machine and (I believe) the point that Shirow was trying to make with the character of The Major was that none of the external features really matter (and this is very effectively demonstrated in the 1995 movie). Quite simply, there’s nothing in the source material (that I recall) that makes The Major “Motoko”. In fact, there’s nothing that really makes The Major female. Sure, the exoskeleton appears female, but it could have easily been male. The Major itself could easily be ‘male’ (if we’re going by original personality) but again, that doesn’t matter. That’s the point of The Major.

I don’t know where they found Batou (Pilou Asbaek) but he was perfect. I don’t think they could have picked a better Batou. Christ I loved his Batou. He just seemed so buff! Kuze (Michael Pitt) exaggerated the little robotic flairs of The Major. I’m not sure how much of that was CG, but the line delivery was spot on. He really played himself off as the villain we could all sympathize with even if corporates didn’t turn into assholes.

There are some notable exceptions to the excellent acting. Togusa’s character (Chin Han) had like two lines the entire movie and they were delivered in such a way that I felt like it detracted from how naive the Togusa of old seemed to be. But this isn’t just nostalgia bait, he gave the line so quickly and so flatly “I am a human, and I will always be 100% human” that I felt like the line was wasted. I also don’t like exposition that way, especially when that line served no purpose for the entire movie.

I do wonder why Aramaki spoke Japanese for the entire movie. He clearly understood English, as everyone else spoke in English and the others clearly understood Japanese (maybe they had a translator in their ear or something). But with what little screen-time he had, he did exude badass. And while we’re on the topic of Japanese, why was Hanka always pronounced as hay-n-ka? Should’ve been pronounced Ha-n-ka and every time they pronounced it incorrectly I would cringe. Sounds weird when you read and hear Japanese most of the time.

Okay, let’s talk about what I didn’t like. Everything else.

I don’t think this is really “Ghost in the Shell”. The original Ghost in the Shell discussed several existential themes regarding humanity and what it means as we merge man and machine. It also addressed how these things would impact our day-to-day lives, and how these things could be abused by corporations and governments. It’s not like the source material lacked things to really discuss. And I don’t feel like I got much of that out of this movie. I feel like it was sorta just mentioned, and then we moved on so we could get to the action scenes. The action scenes weren’t terrible, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not really what I paid for. Other scenes didn’t seem to connect too well if you ask me. I feel like we may have been shown a series of loosely connected stories, which is kind of what the manga did… but I don’t think that a movie should be doing that sort of thing.

The language (Ghost, Shell) seemed very forced every time they were used, to the point where I feel like it would’ve been more natural to use ‘soul’ instead of ‘ghost’ every time they mentioned it. But this is due to line delivery, in the source material ghost is used so matter-of-factly that it doesn’t really leave an impact. But the doctor says “But the important part of you, your humanity, your ghost, is still there” is practically romantic so the language doesn’t seem to fit the line.

They ripped a scene straight out of I, Robot (a beloved favourite of mine), and I, Robot did it better.

My biggest complaint might be the Motoko subplot. It gets introduced about twenty minutes before the end of the movie and is resolved like five minutes after it’s introduced. And quite honestly, I don’t mind its inclusion at all. I have several problems about how it was included. First – why is the effective introduction of the subplot at the END of the movie, rather than towards the beginning? I feel like it would’ve been more effective had it been placed much earlier, perhaps right before the bar scene. And the extra irony about that scene is despite everyone complaining that ScarJo isn’t Japanese, the way they characterized Motoko’s mother looked distinctly Chinese. Just saiyan. The second thing is how very little we have to go on. There’s a glitch that The Major continues to see and it’s really the only thing she has to go on and The Major sort of just accepts that she’s Motoko but I personally don’t feel that the audience has enough information to come to that conclusion. The pieces of evidence she has are the memories of the burning building, watching her allies get kidnapped, and the name she was told by the Chinese lady. Sure, it’s “confirmed” by Kuze but I don’t think he should’ve had the information to make that conclusion either.

Long story short, I believe the movie failed to deliver on its source material, and just became another Hollywood action movie. Which I find depressing because of my attachment to the source material, but that’s fine. I would not recommend this movie. The pacing seems poor and the scenes incoherent. While there is some beautiful imagery, I don’t think that there’s enough of a movie here, let alone Ghost in the Shell. Thanks for reading

Artemis Hunt

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Most Positive Reviews are Useless

This title is likely ironic coming from me, a critic that has reviewed several games both positively and negatively. The point of this post is to emphasize what makes a review useful and why most reviews, particularly the positive ones, are useless. This is another meta post that I’m making to elaborate on how I do reviews in response to feedback on Steam.

So the first question we need to ask ourselves is what is a review? A review is an evaluation of a particular work of art. Since the evaluation is done by an individual, these are often likened to opinion pieces, however there is a key difference. While each individual may disagree on how the art utilizes certain features, most critics should be able to agree to some degree or another what makes a particular quality good. For example, I think you’ll find nary a critic that says Microsoft Excel menu navigation is good, so if a game has Microsoft Excel menu navigation, expect that to come up in the review as a source of annoyance.

Reviews serve two major purposes. First, they are tools for communities to tell other members what to expect when they purchase a product. If I review a product and tell my friend that it’s good except for this one thing and my friend thinks that one thing will make the game unenjoyable for them, then they may not want to buy it. It allows me to save my friend some time and money. This is why the developers get into so much trouble when they start deleting reviews. They are violating the trust of the community. Secondly, they are tools for developers to learn how to make better games. One need not be a good developer to write a good review, but one absolutely must be a good critic to be a good developer. Being able to understand the failings of games is crucial to avoiding the usual pitfalls that make a game unplayable. Being able to understand why good games are good is essential to crafting one’s own good game.

What you should find (at least across my reviews) is that I talk about the components of a game and how I received them. Story, character, interface, map, combat, and anything else I can think of should all be mentioned in every single one of my reviews. Especially the more recent ones, as each review is “practice” and ideally I should improve as I write each review. While you’ll definitely find my opinions within the review (as I do write these to entertain and inform), my opinion is usually backed up by some kind of evidence. And this is why most positive reviews are useless.

Most positive reviews that I see on Steam are “Good game, enjoyed the story, nice work” or something to that effect. This is useless for purpose one, as no one knows why you enjoyed the story (and it is possible to express why without spoiling) and it’s useless to the developer because they don’t know what exactly it is that you liked. Maybe the author is trying to keep it short because people on the internet have the attention span of a goldfish, but you’re doing it wrong. Learning to write shorter reviews that cover the key components is difficult (and it’s something I’m practicing), but you still need to evaluate the game on its merits. Negative reviews don’t often have the same problem, as most people that review a game negatively complain about why they didn’t like the game. In these complaints, a negative review always offers advice on how to improve and also serve to help other buyers make an informed decision on whether they want to buy the game or not.

Positive reviews are also sometimes coloured by how much the user enjoyed the game. One of my recent reviews (at the time of writing) for Kingdom: New Lands likely falls under this category (but I did complain about stuff in it so eh?). This leads to the author sometimes overrating the game, instead of evaluating the game based on its merits.

When I buy games on Steam, I very rarely look at positive reviews. If I’m on the fence, I go straight down to the negative reviews and see what’s wrong with the game. I will still look at some positive reviews, but only the longer ones as these usually tell you the flaws within the game. I guess at the end of the day, what I’m saying is that short reviews with little to no explanation are useless, and positive reviews often fall into this category. When writing (or reading) a review, these short reviews should be avoided because they won’t help a buyer make a decision and they won’t help a developer on their next game.

Anyway, that’s my stitch. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Most Positive Reviews are Useless

How to Rate on a Scale of 1 to 10

Alright, I’ve been getting some criticism for my reviews, some people pointing out that other people say it’s good, so it’s good. While I don’t wish to negate the input of these other players (that rarely tell you ‘what’ exactly is good) I do want to point out that there’s a good chance that they’re reviewing your game incorrectly. So let’s talk about the 1-10 scale.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a scale utilized as poorly as 1-10. The reviewer is offered 10 options to choose from, which may be a bit cumbersome. So cumbersome in fact, that I think people completely disregard some of the scale to make it less cumbersome. If you happen to be a human reading this above the age of… let’s say 15 years-old, I want you to think of all of the people that you’ve rated based on attractiveness. More specifically, the ones you rated on a scale of 1-10. Ladies, you play along too, I know you rate guys. Now I want you to think of the distribution of those ratings. You probably have a lot of 7’s, 8’s, maybe a few 6’s and 3’s, with very few 1’s and 10’s. Those of you familiar with the Bell Curve will no doubt see the problem here, but I’ll explain it for those that don’t.

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This is the general shape of the Bell Curve. This one in particular is a normalized distribution, so it’s designed to show probabilities of an event occurring. And what we see here is that the greatest number of events should be rated 6. This is because 6 is the average between 1 and 10 (Actually 5.5 is but we’re rating using whole numbers so round up or round down. I choose to follow convention and round up). As the ratings deviate from the mean, we should see fewer and fewer uses of these ratings. So there should be more 3’s than 1’s and more 8’s than 10’s. If you’ve rated 100 people based on appearance, you should have very few 10’s. But I’m willing to bet that you have more than the appropriate number of 10’s and not enough 5’s or 6’s. Why is that? Let’s continue

The normal person will likely have a lot of 7’s in their rating database. I believe that when one asks themselves how attractive someone is on a scale of 1-10, they’ve unconsciously set 7 to be the mean. Movie was average? It’s a 6 or a 7. Since this close to the deviation from the mean, it actually produces okay results in ratings. However when it comes to terrible movies, it seems no one knows what to do. Is it a 3? Is it a 4? You’ll likely find that there are more 3’s and 4’s than there are 5’s, despite 5 being closer to the mean. And probably more 8’s than the two combined despite being aligned with 4 on the distribution.

Are you just seeing more terrible movies than slightly worse than average movies? Are you seeing more great movies than more terrible movies combined? That’s a distinct possibility. After all, who willingly watches a movie that they expect to be terrible? Who willingly plays a game that they expect to be terrible? But in that case, we should see a slightly shifted curve, rather than, well, a non-Bell Curve. If you look at seasonal anime ratings on MyAnimeList, you will see many 7’s and not nearly enough 5’s or 6’s. This is evidence of a shifted mean.

I’m not judging anyone for this behavior. I used to engage in this myself, particularly regarding anime and manga. But once I sat down and asked myself why I rated SAO a 6 and several of the Monogatari series in a similar range (5-7) I realized the problem. I thought back to the humans that I had rated based on appearance and saw a similar trend.

Bringing this back to what the problems with ratings, people seem to exclusively use a 3-10 scale instead of a 1-10 scale. The removal of 2 ratings might not seem significant but you’re talking about 20% of your rating scale not being used much at all. And then we need to remember that the lower ratings 3-5 are not used much at all. So you’ve pretty much turned the rating system into 6-10 with an average around 7, which actually lines up with general public nicely. If we turn it into a 1-4 system and equate 7 with 2, then 50% becomes the mean and that’s about what we want.

So I guess it’s not that you’re not producing a Bell Curve properly, it’s that you’re producing it for the wrong range of numbers. If you want to use a 1-10 scale, you need to USE the full scale. You can’t toss out 9’s and 10’s like candy because you felt something was phenomenal. You need to think about all of the games you’ve played up until now and see if it’s not really an 8. And don’t forget about the lower numbers. Don’t just hate a game or a movie and say, “Yep, that’s a 3”. Think about what you didn’t like and compare it against all of the others you’ve seen before.

At the end of the day, the method is up to you, but by adhering a bit more strongly to a 1-10 scale, you can make your ratings on the 1-10 scale be a bit more meaningful. I want to encourage you to really use the 1-10 scale and not the 6-10 scale. Anyway, thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

How to Rate on a Scale of 1 to 10

Frozen – I Will Never ‘Let It Go’

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Hold up there partner. The title could have a loving spin on it, but it’s actually more of a ‘love to hate’ sort of deal. Let me explain. Also, because I don’t do these things without giving a reference to the source material, here is Frozen’s IMDB.

What is Frozen? To briefly summarize the movie – there are two princesses. One has magical powers, the other does not (leading me to believe that one is adopted). Said magical powers must be hidden from the outside world for some reason or another so Elsa (magical power sister) is taught to always hold in her magic. Parents die because Disney movie, years pass until Elsa, the elder sister may be crowned Queen. Which leads one to question who was running the country for those ten odd years, but it doesn’t stop there folks. Coronation day comes, firebrand younger sister finds a guy she likes and asks her Queensister to marry him. Queensister says no, younger firebrand throws a fit, and Queensister accidentally reveals magic. She then does what any responsible monarch does and abdicates the throne. Young firebrand goes in search of elder sister, finds her, gets shot, and leaves. The country sends armed men to find the ‘Queen’ and capture her. Queen gets captured, an attempt on her life is thwarted by younger sister, everyone lives happily ever after. The end.

So before I get onto why I don’t like Frozen, maybe I should briefly mention why I do like Frozen. It has good music. Alright, moving right along…

So why don’t I like Frozen? Understand that when I watch a movie, what I’m looking for is generally good design. Characters and motivations have to make sense. The plot has to make sense. Disney movies usually have life lessons one could take away from it. Frozen, from a storytelling point of view does not make sense. Let’s examine the country of Arendelle, the fictional home of Elsa and Anna.

Where do the people of Arendelle like to eat? At the Olaf Garden.

We’re looking at a country that went without a ruler for some five to ten years. How has the country not devolved into chaos in that timeframe? Maybe the people are inherently good. Alright, let’s roll with that for now. But that shouldn’t stop the people of Arendelle from being conquered by external threats. In the final panning we see that Arendelle is an island nation with what appears to be only two land approaches. This makes Arendelle extremely vulnerable to sieges. By all rights, Arendelle should be under the control of external government. But alright, let’s say that doesn’t happen, Arendelle exists until coronation. At coronation, Arendelle literally throws the gates open to be conquered by literally anyone.

In the flood of people entering, we meet Hans. Hans is the youngest of children from some faraway country but he still wants power. So what’s his plan? Woo one of the princesses! Obviously. And it’s not hard for him to do in a country that’s full of good natured people that don’t try to seize power when the head of state recently died and their children are being cooped up in the castle for… safety? He settles on Anna. When Elsa runs away, Anna decides that she must bring Elsa back, and she says that she’s leaving Hans in charge. Ignoring the fact that the Queen should theoretically still have her rule, and not Anna, the people just accept this! Hans becomes the person in charge! And this is where his plan seems to get funky.

So Hans is now ruler, mission accomplished. The people trust him enough, they’re following his instructions. So what does he do? He sends armed men to find Elsa. Maybe they’re armed because wolves in the forest which, alright, I can buy that. Why does he send armed men? Well… it would make sense to endear him to the people to go look for Elsa. And if Elsa is left alive, she could come back and take Arendelle by rights and by force. So good job Hans, sending men to find Elsa, actually was the correct choice of action. Yet when they meet Elsa alone in her castle, they capture her and bring her home… for Hans to kill… later? Why did they not simply kill Elsa in her castle and be done with the matter? Anna isn’t there to be a witness. We know that they have no qualms about killing Elsa because the first quarrel gets fired straight at Elsa’s chest. We know it’s not about Elsa being required to undo the frost magic affecting the kingdom of Arendelle because Hans was about to kill her in the middle of a lake. We know that it wasn’t a planned ‘see Hans as the hero for unfreezing everything by killing Elsa’ thing because Hans does it in the middle of a blizzard in which people can hardly see anything. If the plan was to make it look like an accident, they could’ve killed her and said an icicle fell on her or something to kill her. In short – Hans made mistakes and his plan made no sense. If anything he should’ve killed Elsa in her castle, brought back the body with icicle wounds or wolf attack wounds and said her death was an accident. While one team brings back the body, another team should go find Anna and bring her back. Marry Anna, and then have her die from the wound Elsa gave her, or just die by ‘accident’. Hans gets the throne all to himself for whatever that’s worth.

Now let’s talk about the princesses. Elsa is a blonde with ice powers. Anna is a redhead without ice powers… or powers of any sort really. Wait a minute… blonde?

Okay… So here’s Elsa…

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And here are her parents…

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You’re telling me a redhead and a brunette produced a blonde child? And not like regular blonde but like… platinum blonde? Those are some pretty slim odds. All of a sudden I’m skeptical of Elsa and Anna being sisters… Eye colour works out, looks to be parents with blue eyes and green eyes. Both Elsa and Anna have blue eyes, so they have a 50% chance each… so a one in four chance of producing the children with those eye colours? That’s fair. But the hair colour thing… that throws a wrench into things.

Also, can we ask why Elsa has magical ice powers? At the beginning of the movie, we are told she was born with the powers, but neither parent is magical and Anna isn’t magical either. But fine, I guess we can just say that she’s a… ehhh… is there a less offensive term than ‘mudblood’ for magical people with non-magical parents?

But fine, let’s accept Elsa has magical powers. Despite the fact that the hair colour and magic combination alone means she hit the jackpot of astronomical odds but fine. She did it. I won’t go into this topic since it has been done to death but why is her set of powers so lucrative? She can make snow – okay. She can make clothes – uhhh? She can make LIFE – okay? She can curse people to slowly turn to ice building up to all at once – hmmmm…maybe.

Why is she being forced to hide her powers? Because she can’t control them? I feel like that’s a bigger to have her practice them. She’ll get better at using her powers and she won’t accidentally brain her sister anymore. And she wouldn’t accidentally freeze the country and put the ice cutting businesses out of work. Plus since she’s clearly capable of bringing snow to life, perhaps they didn’t want to put their army (if they even HAVE one) out of work? I mean, there’s a lot of good Elsa can do with her ice magic. Worse comes to worst, she could take up creating never melting ice-sculptures. Or even something completely unrelated to her magic, she’s a free woman to live as she pleases! Simply put, I’m suggesting that there’s absolutely no reason Elsa had to be locked up in her room for fear of hurting others with ice magic. There may be a reason that she had to hide her ice magic? But by the end of the movie we see that this is not true.

There’s really not much to say about Anna. Her role in the movie doesn’t seem to be significant. “But she found Elsa and saved her life at the end!” Well… yeah… I guess. But think about it – when it comes to character, how does Anna make sense? What is her character? When you think of Anna, what are her defining features? Her red hair? Her childlike innocence? My problem with Anna is that she really doesn’t exist outside the realm of plot device. Think about it. Anna gets hit with the ice blast prompting Elsa to become afraid of her own powers. Anna’s tantrum about marrying Hans is what reveals Elsa’s magic to the kingdom. Anna confronts Elsa to tell her about what’s going on and also gets shot to guilt trip Elsa into surrendering when Hans’ men arrive. Anna, of course, stops Hans’ strike on Elsa, saving her life. At best, Anna represents the Disney stories of the past. The knight willing to brave any storm for their princess. The adventurer that trusts anyone they happen to pass. The girl who believes in love at first sight. At worst, she’s just a tool to drive the story, and perhaps merchandising.

We also have a severely missed opportunity in Olaf. Olaf is great because he’s the link between the Elsa of today and the Elsa of yesterday! Olaf is Elsa’s desire to have what she and her sister had before. But the character itself, what could be a tragic reminder of the past turned into Sid from Ice Age. Is it the same actor? … [Google search research] … Not the same actor but the characters are a little toooo similar. I would’ve liked for Olaf to be more alive with character. But let’s be real here. His purpose is to be as silly and childlike as possible to sell toys of him. Despicable. Also, I refuse to accept that Olaf has no concept of basic phase changes.

What about Marshmallow? Do we ever discover what became of him? #SaveMarshmallow

You know, I have a funny feeling that the music was written first and the story hackneyed to give it an excuse to work. Except they didn’t do it quite well. ‘Let It Go’ may be fine… may be. The song is about empowerment which may be more useful leading into the final act. But it’s placed before the climax or at the very least at the climax. On top of that, the context of it really seems awkward. Elsa being the only one with ice magic could somehow be interpreted as the villain after that song. The Reindeer song and the Summer song are what I call merchandise songs. They exist purely to draw attention to specific characters and draw out the runtime of the movie. They add little to no value. ‘Will You Help Me Hide a Body’ I mean ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ is to emphasize how the sisters grow apart. Why are there sisters? Because Anna is a plot device, I dunno. I feel like ‘Fixer Upper’ would’ve made more sense with Elsa. She’s the one that’s damaged from her childhood trauma and her history of repressed emotions. Yet Anna is the one who needs to be ‘fixed’ because Elsa shot her. Anna seemed perfectly healthy. I mean, as far as her character goes, she’s just a dumb child. Elsa is the one that needed to be fixed.

What lessons are we supposed to learn from this movie? It can’t be that you don’t marry the first thing that looks your way because we have Beauty and the Beast (Belle rejects Gaston) and Brave (Merida rejects… everyone). If we look outside Disney films, there are even more numerous examples. It can’t be that loving one’s family is a thing because Disney did it with… well, Beauty and the Beast where Belle agrees to take her father’s place. Mulan is a personal favorite of mine and yet another example (same type of example, actually). Let’s not forget The Little Mermaid in which Triton takes the place of Ariel in her contract with Ursula either. All of these movies much better movies on their story first narrative. Although to be fair, Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast had the story work done for Disney. I suppose Mulan did too but I’m willing to give Disney more credit for the story in its execution. I guess I’m having a hard time giving Frozen a point in which some other movie not only has done it, but done it better.

Anyway, I’m running out of steam for this post so I’ll end it here. Again, Frozen – perfectly fine movie in terms of entertainment value. But as a movie, as a storytelling device, it falls flat on its face. Again, love the music. It’s just inexcusable to call it a movie. May as well call it a soundtrack with light animation to entertain you. 2 out of 5 stars.

Artemis Hunt

Frozen – I Will Never ‘Let It Go’